Salads are a go-to meal of mine, for several reasons. They’re generally pretty healthy, they’re quick and easy to put together, and they are endlessly customizable to your preferences (or, if you’re like me, to whatever ingredients you are trying to use up).
Now, I’m not talking a sad side salad of just lettuce, tomato and onion, no thank you! I am talking a big, flavorful meal of a salad. Not to brag but, really, I think I have perfected the art of salad as a meal. Follow the steps below to make your own perfectly filling and delicious salad!
- Pick a Base
This is key. You have to know what you like – do you prefer crisp romaine or leafy greens like kale and arugula? Or maybe something in between, like a spring mix. My favorite is spring mix with some spinach or arugula thrown in.
Try out different options and see what you like best. You may find that you prefer different bases with different toppings, for example, while I love arugula, I probably wouldn’t use it in a Mexican inspired salad.
- Bulk it Up
Adding a grain like quinoa or rice will help to make your salad filling. Quinoa is my favorite, so I like to cook up a batch at the beginning of the week to keep in the fridge so it’s ready to go. Having a pre-cooked grain on hand saves so much time!
If grains aren’t your thing, roasted potato or sweet potato cubes are a great addition to a salad as well. I just toss mine in a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and sometimes garlic before putting them in the oven.
- Add a Protein
Protein is what really takes salad from a side dish to a meal. Of course, you can opt for no-brainers like chicken or fish, but I am a vegetarian so I have to get a little creative here.
My all-time favorite is a lemon pepper tofu (my mom has used this recipe with chicken and fish – it works just as well!). Like the quinoa, this is something I like to make a batch of at the beginning of the week and keep on hand. When I don’t have tofu on hand, I also enjoy adding beans (usually garbanzo or black beans) or boiled eggs to get protein in. Another delicious option is falafel, but boy is that hard to make.
- Don’t Skip on Healthy Fats!
By now we should all know that healthy fats are important to a healthy diet, not something to fear! They help to fill us up and regulate hunger, meaning you’ll stay fuller longer.
Avocado is a great addition to almost any salad, although you may not always have a ripe one on hand. Other sources of healthy fat that make for a great addition to salad are olives, hummus or nuts. Walnuts and almonds are popular choices, but I personally love adding cashews to my salad.
- Load Up On Veggies
Of course, a salad should have lots of veggies! You can really do whatever you want here. I usually use all raw veggies because it keeps things simple, but if you’re feeling like a chef you could roast up some veggies. Broccoli and asparagus roast beautifully!
One more tip I have – red onions add so much flavor and are surprisingly versatile! I almost always ended up throwing a bit into any salad I make.
- Add Some Interest
Keep things interesting by adding something unexpected to your salad! Fruits, cheeses, even fresh herbs are a great way to go. I love adding grapes or blueberries to a summer salad, they pair especially well with blue cheese or feta crumbles. As for herbs, cilantro always adds a fun twist!
- Dress it Up
Dressing is often what makes or breaks a salad, from both a taste and health standpoint. I look for interesting flavors with a relatively low to moderate calorie count.
One brand of salad dressing I’m particularly fond of is Bitten, as they have a variety of fruity flavors that are somehow creamy yet low calorie. For a simpler option, you could drizzle a bit an olive oil and lemon juice over your salad. Or, to do something different, I sometimes choose salsa instead of dressing.
Need a little more inspiration? Try choosing a regional cuisine to base your salad on, I personally love doing Mediterranean or Asian inspired salads. Another place to look for inspiration is your favorite salads at restaurants. While many restaurant dishes can be hard to recreate, a salad is fairly straight forward. I love Cheesecake Factory’s super antioxidant salad, which they actually list the recipe for on their site! With these tips and the 7 steps above, you’re sure to be able to create amazing salads, every time!